Neuroprotection by acetyl-L-carnitine after traumatic injury to the immature rat brain

Susanna Scafidi, Jennifer Racz, Julie Hazelton, Mary C. McKenna, Gary Fiskum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in children and is characterized by reduced aerobic cerebral energy metabolism early after injury, possibly due to impaired activity of the pyruvate dehydrogenase complex. Exogenous acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR) is metabolized in the brain to acetyl coenzyme A and subsequently enters the tricarboxylic acid cycle. ALCAR administration is neuroprotective in animal models of cerebral ischemia and spinal cord injury, but has not been tested for TBI. This study tested the hypothesis that treatment with ALCAR during the first 24 h following TBI in immature rats improves neurologic outcome and reduces cortical lesion volume. Postnatal day 21-22 male rats were isoflurane anesthetized and used in a controlled cortical impact model of TBI to the left parietal cortex. At 1, 4, 12 and 23 h after injury, rats received ALCAR (100 mg/kg, intraperitoneally) or drug vehicle (normal saline). On days 3-7 after surgery, behavior was assessed using beam walking and novel object recognition tests. On day 7, rats were transcardially perfused and brains were harvested for histological assessment of cortical lesion volume, using stereology. Injured animals displayed a significant increase in foot slips compared to sham-operated rats (6 ± 1 SEM vs. 2 ± 0.2 on day 3 after trauma; n = 7; p < 0.05). The ALCAR-treated rats were not different from shams and had fewer foot slips compared to vehicle-treated animals (2 ± 0.4; n = 7; p< 0.05). The frequency of investigating a novel object for saline-treated TBI animals was reduced compared to shams (45 ± 5% vs. 65 ± 10%; n = 7; p < 0.05), whereas the frequency of investigation for TBI rats treated with ALCAR was not significantly different from that of shams but significantly higher than that of saline-treated TBI rats (68 ± 7; p < 0.05). The left parietal cortical lesion volume, expressed as a percentage of the volume of tissue in the right hemisphere, was significantly smaller in ALCAR-treated than in vehicle-treated TBI rats (14 ± 5% vs. 28 ± 6%; p < 0.05). We conclude that treatment with ALCAR during the first 24 h after TBI improves behavioral outcomes and reduces brain lesion volume in immature rats within the first 7 days after injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)480-487
Number of pages8
JournalDevelopmental Neuroscience
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Acetyl-L-carnitine
  • Controlled cortical impact
  • Hippocampus
  • Memory
  • Neuroprotection
  • Novel object recognition
  • Sensorimotor function

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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